Hanukkah, otherwise known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday which commemorates a victory from over 2,000 years ago. This holiday, which occurs for eight days every year in late November/early December, was once a minor festival with little to no attention. So, how did it grow to become a widely celebrated holiday?
The story of Hanukkah begins with the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel group led by Judah Maccabee. In response to the oppressive rule of the Greek-Syrian Empire, the Maccabees revolted against this foreign rule in an effort to restore Jewish freedom and autonomy in the region. After two years of bloody battle, the Maccabees were able to restore the Second Temple, the holy houses of worship in Jerusalem which had been destroyed during the revolt.
In celebration of this victory, Jews commemorated the event with an eight-day-long Festival of Lights. This festival became known as Hanukkah, Hebrew for “rededication” and symbolizing a timeframe for both Jewish struggle and survival.
In order to further commemorate the victory and build on locally-inspired celebrations, Jewish leaders created eight special rules to help remember the Hanukkah miracle. The rules included abstaining from performing certain work on Hanukkah, eating oil-fried food as an ode to the oil used to light the Menorah during the celebration, daily ritual prayer and blessings, and of course, lighting the Hanukkah Menorah.
The Hanukkah Menorah is perhaps the most recognizable Hanukkah symbol, and it is a symbol of both the Festival of Lights as well as a reminder of the Maccabees’ heroic struggle. Jews light one candle on the Menorah every night for eight consecutive days beginning on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, and each night of Hanukkah there is a special ritual blessing said to thank God for the miracle.
As Hanukkah became a more widely celebrated festival, it was popularized through songs, art, and literature. Thanks to this, it has become a widely celebrated holiday all over the world, and is especially popular among younger generations.
In summary, Hanukkah became a holiday because of the Maccabees’ revolt against the oppressive rule of the Greek-Syrian Empire. In order to commemorate this victory, a Festival of Lights was celebrated for eight nights. During this holiday, Jews commemorated with the lighting of candles on a Hanukkah Menorah, reciting special blessings, and eating oil-based cuisine. As it became popularized through literature, art, and other forms of expression, Hanukkah has grown to be a widely celebrated holiday, and will continue to be celebrated for many more years to come.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.